If Our Heart...
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity, June 13, 2021
“If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.”
WE CHRISTIANS have an identity crisis. We sometimes don’t know who we are. Are we good, because He is good, and can we feel great about ourselves for being chosen and redeemed out of this world? Or are we evil, sold under sin, and even if we’re saved, then only like smoking sticks rescued just in time from the flame? We might feel either way, for Christianity has grown two wings, one positive, one negative. Can they both be true? Are either of them true?
We all remember reading with no small horror the state of the antediluvian world—what it was like before Noah’s ark and the flood. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” Gen 6:5-6 God’s heart ached because people’s hearts were always thinking of and seeking evil things. It crossed God’s mind, “Why, oh why did I ever make these people?” If destroying the population of almost the entire planet impresses you as God having a really bad day, then think just how bad all the people were that He should deal with them in such an extreme manner. That was way back then, toward people so cruel we can hardly imagine. How has it been since then?
King Solomon, centuries later, ruling the Jewish nation in its heyday, observed, “These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.” Prov 6:16-19 Of the sins he lists, all of them pertain to wicked hearts: pride, dishonesty, murder, conspiracy, lust, perjury, and divisiveness. Solomon saw all these in people’s hearts, and knew that God hates each of these character flaws.
Time passed, and the great kingdom fell into God’s disfavor, because successive kings dabbled in occult arts and led the people into idol worship. At the fall of Judah to Babylon, Jeremiah speaks for God in saying, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, the fruit of his doings.” Jer 17:9-10
Can we defend ourselves against such an accusation? When I was in Jr. High, I considered character types, and consciously thought I needed to form in my own character a guy I liked and others admired. I wanted—are you ready for this? —to be known as a nice guy. Not a very high aspiration but, you know—the kind of person others trust, girls feel comfortable with, guys don’t pick fights with. Years later, in college, I took a look in the mirror. I saw how I acted, especially where I had the upper hand, the superior position. I was not a nice guy. I was cruel, cutting, careless—anything but nice. I was proud, and to be honest, massively insecure. It would be years before I got any control of those wild horses of my sinful nature.
Is mankind truly abominable, and our hearts evil? If we are totally depraved and all our ways devoted to sin and against God, why do our hearts ache when we hear it? A good man who is weak in some areas will know his failings and feel awful about them. Guilt is discernment, the knowledge of both good and evil. A truly evil man, the thoughts of his heart only evil continually, can’t be bothered with guilt. He laughs it off. Evil, for such a creature, has become good. There are such people. We may call them sociopaths. Sometimes we lock them up.
No, we are not creatures of dark, moonless nights where even the memory of the sun fades into myth and we believe only in darkness. Rather we are creatures of the dawn, and we see the rays of the sun streaking across a magenta sky, and we believe in light. Light and shadows play across our path, and we can choose to stand in the glowing first light of day. If intead we choose the shadows, we know it, and feel it’s wrong. This actually speaks well of us. It is why God was right to come find us, and to send us not another flood, but His Son.
We cry out with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a right spirit within me. Don’t cast me away from Your presence, And don’t take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” Psalm 51:9-12 An evil man has no such care. The word ‘sin’ is a joke to him.
In Babylon’s exile, God called his people back and promised a new kingdom and new hearts. Ezekiel spoke God’s truth from the exile that: “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God… I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezek 11:19-20, 36:26 This promise was given hundreds of years before Christ came to give us, not only forgiveness, but new hearts to love Him. Today, those new hearts have arrived.
St. John, in today’s Epistle, writes, “Let us love… in deed and in truth. By this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.” 1 Jn 3:16-21 Love is the fulfilling of the law. John said it. Paul said it. Jesus said it. But what is love? When we love others, we seek the good of everyone. We want good things. When we love God, we lift Him up where He is rightly enthroned. How do we do that?
Imagine a carton, like from Amazon, just delivered. It’s addressed to you. Pull the tab and see it open. What’s inside isn’t very big, but it looks valuable. What is it? Open the bubble wrap. Take it out. Wait a second: this is a heart! Somebody sent me a heart! It’s only about the size of my fist, but it’s beautiful!
Now ask again: Where’s the love I need to love God and love others, my neighbor? It’s in these newly unpacked, fully refurbished, money back guarantee hearts. Come on. Take them out of the carton. Set them in place and now… start them up. You feel that?
Before you had your new heart, you could never understand what I’m about to say. Love is the key, love is the way, love is the answer, love is your new, true nature. “If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.” These new hearts have been reprogrammed. They don’t believe we are totally depraved, our thoughts only evil. Knowing that wickedness is a product of a bad heart, your new heart is able to deliver the real goods. You don’t have an evil heart. God has given you a new one.
When Jesus said to love God with all your heart, you used to wonder how to do it. You used to think that was just religious talk. Now you are beginning to see that it’s possible. The new heart likes to love God. Let out the throttle a bit now and see how much love is in there. Wow. Fairly purrs, doesn’t it?
Something else Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.” Matt 5:8 That used to be another idealistic, theoretical Bible verse for you, but now you’re beginning to think it’s possible. Pure in heart—unthinkable with the old heart. But now… what does it mean? Pure means something that is all one thing. Pure water is water—absent of impurities, of anything else, even strawberry syrup. Nope: just H2O. Pure gold is 24k, no alloys. Pure hearts are hearts for one thing only, just goodness, just God’s love. Pure hearts don’t want bad things. The desire to dive into a dumpster isn’t there anymore. With these new hearts, the power of living pure has just arrived this morning.
What if I fail? What if I stumble, and sin again? Will my new heart be ruined? Here again is that see-saw, the dynamic tension that has Christians caught between doctrine and experience. Sin and grace, forgiveness and obedience—the terms aren’t as important as their content. St. John, the same who said our hearts have assurance before God, also said in the same Epistle that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive. Say ‘I have no sin’ and you’re lying. We must know we’ve sinned, and that others sin: we are forgiven, and we are to be forgiving, as God forgives.
The world doesn’t like this language. It says, ‘Sin is a judgmental word. Good and evil are relative terms. Everyone has their path and must judge themselves if the steps they take are working for them. No sin, just life lessons. No absolutes, just shades of grey.’ Christians may swallow such passing fads of philosophy, and have. ‘Don’t feel guilty, Jesus took care of it all, you just relax and have a good time in the Lord.’
But we have to see reality. Sin is what we do against God and contrary to His design. There are absolutes. There is good and there is evil. It’s no help to redefine terms and escape the issue that way. If we run from feeling guilty, we may kill our hearts again.
You have new hearts. You may yet sin again, and if so, God will hear and God will forgive. Don’t play games, just fess up. Keep short lists. Get back to Him right away, knowing for certain that He is always ready to have you back 100% forgiven. He doesn’t want you to return to the shadows, so He gives you His Holy Spirit to speak into your spirit, and inform your new heart where the path now leads.
Our identity crisis is over.
We are not evil. We are good. Your new heart is very, very good.
Feel it loving… loving… loving… loving…